Why He Hasn’t Been Around
The manic depressive’s outbursts are incomprehensible to others. After one, Theo was calm and possessed until his girlfriend said, “I will have to leave you. Your moods are killing me.”
His civil service job with its soul destroying boredom and inconsequentiality chaffed him raw. He wrote poems, stories. It didn’t help. Impotent before the fact of his condition, he raged. Yet he had to carry on with his life.
Making a distinction between depression and melancholy, he fell in love with melancholy. He longed for depression to end, to let the melancholy in. It was melancholy’s sweet, sweet sadness and what was behind it: the slowly rising sun.
A reasonably accurate metaphor to describe his mental makeup would be that of the hunter and his prey. He was both. Round in circles he went, hunting himself, bow and arrow in hand. He had the hunter’s yell, the hunted’s yelp.
He looked down through a web of nerves at sleep. It was on the other side like a delicious meal he was not allowed to eat.
He was aware that he was thinking, but the images were absurd, in no way connected to reality as he understood it. Dialogues began rationally but ended in non-sequiturs, little products of the mind machine gone awry.
He was assailed by brutal images. A woman stepped off a bus, fell and banged her head. A brick wall collapsed. A car’s wheel flew off and the vehicle careened into a grove of trees.
Depression has nothing to do with weakness or will, yet who is there who has not had it (and even those who have) who does not think it does? It’s a belief that lives on like a discredited conspiracy theory. It lives on.
She left him. He went away, far away, to Spain, to sort himself out.
As Xavier, a Spanish anarchist in a worn blue beret told him in the lone bar in Vulpellach (it had three tables, six chairs, legacy foosball; it was open for two hours in the evening or until it seemed no one was coming), “Every village in the Ampurdan has its Salvador Dalí.” Vulpellach was in the Ampurdan, a few kilometers from the painter’s home in Port Lligat.
“What I mean to say,” Xavier continued, while the two other customers in the bar and the barman listened attentively, “is that every village has someone made strange by the spectral wind, the howling Tramontana, that now and then blows down from the Pyrenees Mountains. Made strange as the trees on the bluffs that have been subjugated to the wind’s will and are twisted, bent double. Strange people, yes, but sometimes sainted, like Dalí.”
When the wind came, Theo cringed before it. Like a powerful Chinook, it was relentless and, as Xavier said it would be, “Tan seco como la Sahará.” Dry as… In moments the winter-humid countryside was dry. The wind did not surge and wane but blew with steady force like an endless barbarian army forging on.
Theo, young hotshot writer, hid, paralyzed like a dog with rabies. In the walled patio behind the house next door, the village harridan, whose name meant Happiness, screamed and cried under the almond tree like someone Shakespeare might have known.
For eight days the wind blew. The young hotshot’s heart was sick and stressed. Memories from childhood and from the day before haunted him. None were good, none comforting.
Theo envied the French novelist Raymond Rousel’s freedom to be mad. With his wealth, Rousel was the crazy hermit loyal only to his mind. He even had a doctor who understood and supported his idiosyncrasies. He had a cook and a man to care for his villa and its gardens. He had maids to change his sheets. He could slide out of bed as late as he wanted and work until he was exhausted.
It’s unfair, Theo wrote, but there you have it: a rich madman can indulge his illness while a poor one has a hard time of it. Sometimes it’s too hard to bear.
He wrote: Passion and ambition, where are they? It is 5:30 in the afternoon on a sunny Sunday in Calgary and time for more cereal. Sunday means bland food and self-flagellation. Why did he do that? Say that? How could he have been so wrong / inconsiderate / hurtful?
He was the inferior being in a small room with its curtains closed and a mind clouded as the sky. What demons were keeping him distressed today? What balm would make them take their strangler’s hands off his floundering ego?
His head was stuffed with cotton wool. But not nice, clean cotton wool. It was like something women throw away. He forgot, because he was so much inside his mind, that what he said last night to him or her or him or her was so innocuous only he would remember it.
Half a dozen times he nearly reached tears. Why couldn’t he be cured of this? After three years of pills, had he developed a tolerance to them, he wondered? Would he go through the remainder of his life increasing the dosage every couple of months? Where would it end? With suicide?
Time was not the healer it was cracked up to be.
Medical science had no way to reach into the brain to repair damaged circuits, or the little valve that no longer functioned as it should, or was genetically encoded to fail as the brain matured and no longer properly provided the timely release of a certain acid necessary for mental balance.
Psychotherapy—Theo had done it. He could talk about himself for the rest of his life and still not be right.
For a few minutes he was fine. He wrote a story. Then he crashed. For an hour that Sunday in Calgary he was normal. An hour a day. Fantastic.
She said: “You have to understand: I can’t go on like this. I can’t go on being strong while you drag me down.”
He told her, “Leave then. Get out. Go far away.” How could she know that his words were grenades launched at his own heart? How could she believe it if he told her that it was his self-destructive mind working against itself, to hurt him? How insane does that sound? He told her he never wanted to see her again, but he only wanted her to hold him.
In a dream he stands leaning forward, his hands on his knees. A powerfully driven sword slices his wrists, both at the same instant. His hands cut off, the blade continues, slicing his legs at a point just above the knees. As his legs fall away and his torso begins to topple—at that instant of falling, of the realization that his body has been cut to pieces, and that he has been instantly hewn into a multiple amputee—he wakes.
There are a thousand thoughts of falling and dying, and one or two of a phantom mistress raising him to his feet. Hers are eyes that believe him, that see him and into him.
“The white and blue virgin called Melancholy” – Lorca’s duende, weeping. Melancholia. He thought it a beautiful word. He saw it as a lovely bird. But it was a bird that carried sickness and death in its feathery caress.
Or, to offer another image: he wears depression like a spiky shroud. He warns himself, as if he were two beings inhabiting a strange land: Do not touch a thing while it is on you. Whatever you brush against will at best be disarranged, at worst shattered by the inner anger escaping through your fingertips. Stay away from the world as if the world had a plague.
He had been alone and angry for nine days. Now the anger was overlain by flu and fever, and by depression that fingered the petals of the rose of suicide. He was under perpetual siege from within. He did not think clearly. He could not make reasoned decisions. He would lose his job.
Why was he so fucking angry?
There is no one stronger than a drowning man who grabs another and expects to be saved. There is no heavier being than one who has blood oozing from his head, wildness in his eyes and a shard of glass still in his hand.
Before she left, she opened the door and he descended the stairs. Under the stairs he played with the wonderful toys despair can invent. He resolved to become a recluse and die down there. But she came back. She hauled him up the stairs and out the door and to a hospital where they gave him strong medication. Then she went away again for good.
He didn’t know why but without her he became gentler with himself; he began to like himself, at least from time to time. He grieved for the loss of the obsession she was for him, but not for the man he grew to be in their marriage.
With time he came to understand that no one could help him recover except those who were trained to do that. But it wasn’t psychotherapy he needed so much as substances to balance his chemistry. (Had he not always intuited as much and self-medicated to achieve it? Is that not the common path?)
A depressive is a distinct type of human, almost a sub-species, as old as amber. How did the ancients handle such a being? Melancholia was once called Bellerophon’s disease, named for a legendary Greek who slew the Chimera. The Chimera was a fire breathing monster with a goat’s head on its back and a snake for a tail. That was depression.
Once Theo was a young hotshot with a book newly published, a passport and a guidebook to Spain in his knapsack. He had new roads to wander. He had an ego that could fill the Atlantic that spread out beneath the plane.
He was also a man who cringed time and again before a crazy-making wind.
Wade Cravath Bell is the author of four books of fiction from Guernica Editions and Coach House as well as numerous stories and poems in print and internet journals. He lives in Calgary, Canada.
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